Abby Glaser currently works as a Community Advocate at Encompass Connection Center in Springfield, Ohio. She has over 20 years of social work experience working with various vulnerable populations, including the residents of Safe Harbor. We are privileged to share with you today some of Abby's insight into intimate partner violence.
Janet* is a married mother of three. She's beautiful, kind, and successful in her career field. She's married to an even more successful businessman who is well known and respected in his community. They are involved in church, school activities and have lots of friends. Janet is also one of the ten million people that experience domestic violence every year. By the time she's sitting in my office, things behind closed doors have escalated to the point that she fears for her life. And this is a legitimate fear: 1 in 2 female murder victims are killed by intimate partners.
While they look like the picture-perfect family from the outside, the reality is that Janet has been experiencing domestic violence for most of her marriage. Over the years she has tried to find a way to leave but has never been able to do so. All the bank accounts and credit cards are in her husband's name. The cars and the house are registered to him only. And even more terrifying, he has made it clear that if she ever leaves, he will use all his resources to ensure she never sees their children again.
A common question when it comes to domestic violence is, "why don't they just leave?" You've just heard a few of Janet's compelling reasons. The truth is that leaving a domestic violence situation is extremely complex. There are myriad psychological, financial, emotional, physical, and logistical reasons why it is rarely as simple as just walking out the door and not looking back. Do they have all the necessary supports in place to leave safely: dependable relationships, transportation, housing, finances, and childcare, as well as legal and other professional supports?
Victims also understandably fear retaliation: statistics show that the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is in the week after leaving the abusive situation. They may also fear that their children, loved ones, or pets will be the targets of retaliation. One recent study found that 20% of intimate partner homicide victims were not actually the domestic violence victims themselves, but friends, family members, neighbors, law enforcement, or bystanders.
Perhaps not as imminently terrifying as the potential for physical violence are nonetheless weighty issues of religious belief and practice. Will their faith community support them through the process of leaving an abusive partner? The shame and fear of rejection that victims wrestle with is unfortunate, but real.
We must also keep in mind the mental toll of ongoing psychological abuse. Domestic violence is about power and control, and physical abuse is only a part of this. Abusers manipulate their victims by masterfully breaking down their self-esteem and sense of self-worth, creating financial and relational dependency, and gaslighting victims into believing the abuse is their fault, it's not that bad, or no one will believe them. Months or years of this messaging can rewire neural pathways in the brain. Unlearning these harmful messages and internalizing healthy beliefs is by no means quick or easy.
Janet knows by now that most people cannot see behind her husband's charm and success to the real man that lies behind the mask. It would take us a year and a half of secret meetings, planning and involving other professionals from several other agencies to get her and her children safely out of the home. It would be another two years of divorce proceedings before she could sleep peacefully, knowing that she was not going to lose her children.
In my twenty years as a social worker, I have encountered different versions of the same story over and over. I've met with countless men and women trapped in intimate partner violence. Young and old, every race, socio-economic bracket. There is no "typical" domestic violence victim; they come from every walk of life. The only consistency is that they usually need help leaving their situation. But getting out is only the first step. Once an individual has left, they face a long road of stabilizing and healing. Often, they need financial help, clinical help, housing assistance, daycare, etc. The list goes on and on. Putting all those services together is my job and requires dedication and collaboration from many different agencies. It truly does take a village to help survivors.
In the beginning of my career the resources for these situations were few and far between. We had one shelter locally and they only addressed domestic violence. We know now that survivors need a holistic approach to heal. They need their physical, mental, and spiritual needs met. They need counseling, community support, and access to healthcare. I love working with Safe Harbor because they are providing all of this and more to women escaping abuse. In addition to referring appropriate individuals to receive help, I also have the honor of teaching relationship skills and parenting skills to the Safe Harbor residents. I love getting a front row seat to the transformation that is happening! Most of all I love seeing an organization encourage healing from a holistic approach; seeing a survivor as a whole person as opposed to just the sum of what's happened to them. Seeing survivors treated with the dignity and respect they deserve is what Safe Harbor does best and I am proud to partner with them!
*Names and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
If you would like to partner in the work that Safe Harbor is doing in the lives of women like Janet, consider giving a tax-deductible donation of any amount this Christmas season. You can donate securely at https://give.idonate.com/safe-harbor-house/2021-christmas.